Lord of the Rings Online went free-to-play last month, opening its doors to a much wider audience. This new business model makes it a fun new option for gaming families who passed it over previously due to the cost of subscription fees for multiple family members.
LotRO has the advantage of a backstory loved by parents and kids alike, not to mention a crafting system that rewards interdependence, a beautiful world, and accessible system requirements -- but is it a good fit for families with younger children?
Lord of the Rings Online
Developer Turbine, Inc.
Publisher Turbine, Inc.
Launched April 2007
What systems does it run on? The minimum requirements are Windows XP, an Intel Pentium® 4 1.8 GHz processor or its equivalent, 512 MB of RAM, a 64MB NVIDIA GeForce 3 or ATI Radeon 8500 video card, 7 GB of available disk space, 9.0 DirectX or higher, 2X DVD ROM, and a 56 kbps modem. The recommended requirements are Windows XP or Vista, an Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz or equivalent processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 128MB NVIDIA GeForce 6800 or ATI Radeon X850 video card, 10 GB of available disk space, DirectX 9.0 or higher, a 2X DVD ROM, and broadband DSL or cable internet.
How much does it cost? Lord of the Rings Online is completely free-to-play with options for purchase of premium content. As mentioned earlier, they switched to this model last month. The full game is available for free with things such as extra content, more storage options, and so on available in the LotRO Store. The LotRO site has a handy chart detailing exactly what comes with the free version and what is available for purchase.
The crafting and housing aspects of the game are where it really shines from a family perspective. Both private and guild housing are available, and there are many choices for decorating both inside and out. The rich crafting system is set up to encourage players to work together and share resources, making it ideal for a family group to choose complimentary professions and help one another.
LotRO is rated T for Teen by the ESRB, in part because of the presence of alcohol and tobacco, which is an optional part of the crafting system. Farmers can grow Pipe-weed (tobacco), and cooks have the ability to brew alcohol. Neither activity is required to play or advance.
What does the game look and feel like? The free areas of LotRO include Bree-land, the Shire, and Ered Luin. The towns and outlying areas are noted for their beauty and realism -- players should definitely take their time and explore. Quests, NPCs, and such can be found in some of the most surprising out-of-the-way areas.
The main storyline takes players through some dark caves and night time instances, but in general the feel of the free areas is fairly light.
Who plays? Thanks to the popularity of the franchise, the variety of play within the game, and the new business model, you'll find players of every age and background running around Middle-earth.
What playstyles does the game most suit? In a word, several. The crafting and housing system alone could keep players busy for ages, but if you're an explorer or quester there is plenty to do. Those who want to participate in the original tale can follow the epic storyline.
What kid-friendly features help keep children moving through the content? Since the game is aimed at teens and older, it's not heavy on the hand-holding for the younger set. However, the storyline and quests are fairly clear and simple to understand if you read the text.
What's the social atmosphere? It depends quite a bit on what server you play on. Landroval, for example, is acknowledged by players as the official roleplay server. You'll find a lot of players running around in character there. Overall, you'll find a very friendly and helpful community, particularly in the early areas. Monster Play is a PvP option on the login screen for more experienced players, one that parents may want to have their kids avoid. PvP comes with its own brand of trash-talking and aggressive players in many cases, so younger kids may find it a bit much.
Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit MMO Family's Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming.